Essential Elements of Mindfulness
Letting go of everything
The capacity to ‘let go’ of your anger as well as your judgements are increased to the practice of mindfulness meditation. If you really want to experience sustained OK-ness you will need to practice letting go of everything. When you sit down to meditate, you will want to practice holding onto nothing, to have no mental attachments to any objects at all – no attachment to your possessions, no attachments to other people, no attachments to yourself, no attachment to life, no attachment to death, no attachment to anything at all. In other words, it is not about letting go of anything in particular. You have to be willing to absolutely let go of everything to really experience sustained Ok-ness. So what are you really willing to see? What are you really willing to feel? What are you really willing to accept? The spectrum of human reality for each and everyone of us includes potentials for the highest glory and goodness, and the lowest primitive drives, motives, and impulses. We are all a work in progress with this development has a specific direction and evolutionary movement towards greater complexity and a capacity to simply accept whatever arises from moment to moment without judgment and without unnecessary reactivity.
Self and Others
The practice of mindfulness can fundamentally alter our attitudes and understandings about our relationships with the world. For example, have you ever had the experience of having an argument with someone, but completely in your own head? Have you ever wondered who it is that you’re arguing with? Most of us never get that far in our awareness of ourselves, but let’s consider it now. It’s obviously not the actual other person that you’re arguing with, since they’re probably not there. If you think about it, you can only reach the conclusion that it’s yourself that you’re arguing with. One part of your mind (which you identify as yourself) and another part of your mind (which appears as an internal representation of the other) are locked in a clash. This “real” other isn’t involved at all. It is all about parts of you! Mindfulness practice helps us to better understand that what we think is ‘other’ is essentially a part of our self. In this sense ‘self’ and ‘other’ are one in the same.
Another major element of mindfulness involves observing your experience in a way that is more direct and felt in the body, rather than being just thought about or analytical. A natural tendency of the mind is to try and think about something rather than directly experienced it. Mindfulness aims to shift the focus of attention away from thinking to simply observing thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations (e.g., touch, sight, sound, smell, taste) much like watching a movie. By tuning into mental processes, we are able to recognize that our thoughts are just thoughts, our feelings are just feelings; they don’t necessarily represent reality. We can observe them rather than being ruled by them.
Description and Distinction
This aspect of mindfulness relates to noticing the very fine details of what you’re observing. For example, if you are observing something like a tangerine, the aim is to describe what it looks like, what are its shape, color, and texture. You might give it a descriptive name, like “orange”, “smooth”, or “round”. The same process also can be applied to emotions (e.g., “heavy”, “tense”).Mindfulness creates more description and distinction to what we observe because we are observing more closely. These descriptions and distinctions are especially helpful in understanding our anger and life in general more clearly.
Being Non Judgmental
It is important to adopt an accepting stance towards your experience. A significant reason for prolonged emotional distress relates to attempt to avoid or control your experience. When being more mindful, no attempt is made to evaluate experiences or to say that they are good, bad, right, or wrong, and no attempt is made to immediately control or avoid the experience. Accepting all of your experience is one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness, and takes time and practice to develop. Bringing a kind and gentle curiosity to your experience is one way of adopting a non-judgmental stance.
Focusing on One Thing at a Time
When observing your own experience, a certain level of effort is required to focus your attention on only one thing at a time, from moment to moment. It is natural for a distracting thoughts to emerge while observing, and there is a tendency to follow and ‘chase’ these thoughts with more thinking. The capacity of ‘being present’ is to develop the skill of noticing when you have drifted away from the observing and sensing mode, into thinking mode. When this happens and it’s not a mistake, simply acknowledge that it has happened, and then gently return to observing your experience. Mindfulness lets us absorb the richness of the moment instead of going through life with half of our attention on the past or future or our own mental wondering. The self-knowledge that comes from mindfulness lets us be more intentional in choosing priorities and actions.
Suspension of Reactivity
Mindfulness practice helps to develop a capacity for suspension of reactivity. Suspension does not mean that you will passively do nothing, but rather you will take some time to determine the best response. In other words, you will suspend your certainties, take a step back, and allow yourself to think through the situation by way of your evolved brain.
Suspension is not easily grasped because the activity is unfamiliar. When we listen to someone speak, for example, we face a critical choice. If we begin to form an opinion we can do one of two things: we can choose to defend our view and resist theirs. First we can try to get the other person to understand and accept the “right way” to see things (yours of course). We can look for evidence to support our view, and discount any evidence that may point to flaws in our own logic. Or, we can learn to suspend our opinion and the certainty that lies behind it. Suspension basically means that we neither suppress what we think nor advocate it. Rather, we allow some time to go buy that lets us and others see and understand it. We simply acknowledge and observe our thoughts and feelings as they arise without being pressured to act on them.
Life is Not a Personal Drama
Your life is not a personal drama… Although it may seem as such. We are each personally involved in a developmental process way bigger than whatever petty problems we are presently attached to. We are all, whether we know it or not, a small but significant part of the evolution that is taking all of us to a higher place, and more complex place, and frankly no one really knows what it will all look like in the future. So you’re life, viewed from this powerful perspective, is not a personal drama you’re playing out but rather an impersonal process. It is a process of growth and development that is propelling all of us forward towards higher and higher levels of complexity. Just as this evolutionary impulse has taken atoms to molecules, to organisms, to creatures, to humans, this very same energy which is responsible for the creation of a whole universe ‘out of nothing’ is propelling Humanity to a more complex place and you and I are integrally part of this process. It is this evolutionary impulse present in you, which has been present since before you were born, that brings you to this very moment. If you are reading these words it is because of the presence of this awesome force that has generated poetry from dust and Symphonies from simple vibration. It may pop your bubble to know that you are not the center of the creation having a personal drama, but in truth you actually have as much significance in terms of how this evolutionary impulse plays out as any one. You have a choice to align yourself with the process of growth and development or not. To choose “yes” is to become a creative cog in the wheel towards higher-functioning not just for you but for the whole universe. To say “no” is to not participate in the moving forward. It is really your choice.
Let’s summarize: 1) Learn and practice mindfulness meditation; 2) Reduce reactivity; 3) Give yourself permission to feel and access your anger; 4) Learn how to express anger and to release anger’s energy in a non-destructive way; 5) Stay as present as possible in every moment, especially when you feel your anger rising; 6) Shift your attention to your breath to calm yourself until you return to OK-ness; 7) When you sense yourself getting too angry, remove yourself from the provocative situation and only return to the discussion once the anger has been processed and you return to OK-ness.